Thursday, 28 October 2010

Religious decline

I had a very interesting discussion recently with a former ministry colleague who moved to north England to work in a very difficult parish and diocese, one now in the heartland of the area now populated by Islamic immigrants. It was a very working class area, one deeply and possibly irreparably affected by the power struggle between militant unionism and government in the 1980s. Trying to make a church, much less the message of the Gospel, relevant to people who have seen their communities destroyed, their way of life changed irrevocably and who now must compete for wealth with people of a different culture, with different expectations and different desires for the future, makes life for a vicar difficult to say the least.

My interest was really fired up though, when he mentioned that their muslim neighbours are more friendly than the supposedly Christian ones and certainly more generous when it comes to helping those in need. But, when we came to discussing the young people and their attitudes to religion I was surprised by his statement that Islam faces the same decline in the UK as Christianity. For most young folk, it is a 'folk religion.' Young people now only attend the mosqes regularly if they want to make a point, but for most, its the religion their parents follow and they just tag along. In his view, Islam is perhaps twenty years behind Christianity before it starts to decline dramatically. Clearly the strife between the fanatics has begun to appear as stupid as it is to the youth - who aren't that gullible or stupid!

Even more interesting though is the news that a recently published sociological study identifies an interesting trend. While religion is in decline in Europe, it is on the rise in every other continent. What is also identified is that it is changing, with less growth among the 'traditional' structures of church or mosque and far more on the fringes among small groups, communities and even totally individual explorations. No one seems to know why Europe is bucking the trend. Are we ahead of the rest? More aware of the scientific debate? Or are we actually behind the curve and the rest are onto something our thinkers and educators have not yet spotted?

I think this will be a very interesting area to watch in the coming years. It will also be a challenge to the churches to discover why it is that the traditional dogmas, doctrines and strutcures are so unappealing. Interesting times ahead I think for those who still hold a faith and practice it.

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